An Introduction to Astronomy

This course is designed for people who have not previously studied any astronomy, and will give an introduction to the subject. Starting with the history of modern astronomy, this course will cover the origin and evolution of our solar system, the life cycles of stars and the differences in the structure of galaxies.

Here at the Astrophysics Research Institute we run a selection of life-long learning courses that can be taken by students who do not have any specialist scientific or mathematical background. These courses are taken as part time distance learning courses; you do not need to attend any on-site classes.

The course is split into the following sections:

  1. The History of Astronomy: How large is the Universe, and how long has it been around? How has the modern view of cosmology changed from early civilisation’s views of the Universe? What is the origin of modern astronomy, and how have Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein revolutionised the way in which we understand the wider Universe?


  2. The Solar System: How did the solar system form? What is the structure of the Sun, and what causes the sunspots and solar flares that we see on the surface? What are the characteristics of the inner rocky planets; how are the similar and how do they differ? How are the structures of the Jovian planets different to those of the terrestrial planets?


  3. Stars and the Cycle of Creation: What are the stages in the life cycle of a star? How do stars evolve and what are the different types of stellar remnants? Why do some stars vary in brightness and what are the processes that result in the formation of white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes?


  4. Galaxy Formation and the Milky Way: What are the dynamics of galaxy evolution? How do we classify galaxies and what do the differences in their morphology tell us about their histories. How do we calculate the mass of a galaxy, and what is the evidence for the existence of dark matter? What are the processes involved in the merging of galaxies, and what will be the ultimate fate of our Milky Way galaxy?


The course lasts for five months. You will be expected to produce two pieces of coursework and take one multiple-choice test over the Internet throughout the course. Overall we expect that you will need to put around 100 hours of time into the course.

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